Thursday, March 5, 2020

New Spring Faculty Member Nicole Johnson Interview


By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant

Nicole Johnson is a professional dancer and choreographer based in Atlanta. She is a founding member of the Fly on a Wall dance group, and is also teaching Modern III/IV for the Emory Dance Program this spring. Johnson began her training at a small dance school and then started studying ballet seriously with the Atlanta Ballet at around the age of ten. Johnson has also trained in jazz, contemporary, and musical theater. Since Johnson was so versatile in her early training, she describes a common perception about herself as follows: “At the Atlanta ballet they thought I was the musical theatre student, but when I would go and train in all these other styles they would say ‘Oh, the ballerina is here,’ so I always felt conflicted between these two worlds.” Johnson danced for the Atlanta Ballet for six seasons; during this time, Johnson would attend outside classes in Forsyth, Gaga, and other techniques, which deepened her exposure to the world of contemporary dance. 
Johnson knew that she wanted to be a dancer from a young age and possibly become an instructor. In addition, Johnson had always been interested in choreographing, but was waiting on “her voice” to allow her to express what she wanted the audience to feel. This big break occurred when she ran into a former student of hers who asked “When are you going to start creating your own works?” This encouraged Nicole to take a leap to find her choreographic voice. Nicole stated “I think I am still on that journey of finding out what I want to say but am slowly finding it by starting to do it.” 
Johnson’s choreographic process consists of collaboration between people she trusts and who are inspiring and creative. She pursues ideas that are experimental for dance and theater. As a choreographer she values digging deeper into movement and presenting movement that is varied, aimed at different textures, qualities, ranges, and levels. She says “I am greedy. I want all of it. I want to find the softness, the explosion, the sentimental, the dry, I want to try and find all of it.” Johnson also wants her pieces to connect with viewers on an emotional level and express her feelings through the dancers’ movements. When choreographing, she always leaves space for the audience to create their own interpretation of the work, even though they may see a different meaning than the one Johnson strived to present. 
Johnson is very involved in the Atlanta dance community. She is currently creating a new work with Fly on a Wall colleague Jimmy Joyner based on childhood memories. Johnson stated “I find things to still be very centered in a man's approach to art making and what is considered to be acceptable. I am diving into hyper feminine things and seeing what the shadow side of them is and how they are empowering.” This piece will debut in 2021. 
When asked what advice she has for students who want to perform dance at a professional level, she says “Keep taking class because there is not a point in which you learn it all. It is a practice and you are constantly growing, evolving, and adding new tools and rediscovering your body. Because your body keeps changing, your heart keeps changing, so there's always something new to find.” 
This spring, Johnson is teaching Modern III/IV for the Emory Dance Program. Her students are working on concepts such as energetic patterns, layering levels of activity, and being introduced to tools that can be easily accessible while moving. Johnson described her teaching experiences as follows: “So far I have really enjoyed teaching my class at Emory. It is really quite a nice treat to stick with the same group of students for a long period of time. I find so often that I am doing master classes or teaching adult classes for professionals, but getting to dive in with the same group and present a series of ideas and be able to stay inside of an idea longer is something I am really enjoying so far.”

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Emily Fan


By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant
Emily Fan; photo by Melisa Cardona

Emily Fan is a junior majoring in dance and movement studies. For her piece set on the Emory Dance Company, she is exploring the intricacies that exist between the realms of form and fun. Fan stated that there is currently not a story line or message behind this piece but she is experimenting with “...themes of restraint/imprisonment and freedom and how they are translated through movement.” 

For her Emory Dance Company piece, Fan describes the movement quality as “... aligned and formulated in the lower body but complemented with a more flowing upper body.” In terms of choreographic inspiration, Fan stated “I don't have any one specific piece of inspiration for when it comes to creating content, mostly because this is my first time choreographing a group piece. I think my emotions often influence my movement and how I interpret movement.” 

Fan performed in Kristin O'Neal's Sweet Suite with the
Emory Dance Company in fall 2019.

Fan looks forward to “...see what connections I end up drawing to my work and finding out what the piece has been trying to tell me it's about. I'm excited for that sense of self-discovery.” In order to ensure that her cast understands her choreographic process, she has weekly check-ins before rehearsals. As for the audience, Fan’s biggest hope is that the audience can connect with her work in an emotional capacity. 

As we get closer to the show date, we will hold another interview with Emily Fan to explore her full choreographic process. 

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Rebecca Neish


By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant
Rebecca Neish; photo by Melisa Cardona
Rebecca Neish is a junior with a major in human health, and a minor in dance and movement studies. In her piece for Emory Dance Company she is exploring performance through various methods of dance. Neish stated “Often times I see modern dance as a very internally focused style and wanted to explore what modern would look like if it were performative, both to an audience and to one specific person.” Rebecca, who has choreographed for AHANA Dance (a student-run dance group) prior to EDC, obtains inspiration for her pieces from modern dance works that she has seen at Emory and around the Atlanta area. In her pieces, she strives to ask herself what questions she wants to answer with dance, and what she would like to see explored on the EDC stage; she accomplishes this through large and fluid movements that feel good in the body. 
Neish is both excited and nervous to see the final work come together on the stage April 16-18th. To overcome this and ensure that things run smoothly, Neish is “...placing trust in my dancers to take the piece and run with it. So far, they have done an amazing job, and I am so excited to watch them dig into the material more.” 
Rebecca Neish; photo by Melisa Cardona
Neish is working diligently in the studio twice a week with her cast. When asked what she hopes to accomplish through this piece she stated “I would like to connect with the whole audience—not just those fully entrenched in the dance community—but those also new to it.” 
As we get closer to the show date, we will hold another interview with Rebecca Neish to explore her full choreographic process. 

Very Unpromising Material: Honors Thesis by Maria McNiece

Photo by Christina Massad

By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant
Photo by Christina Massad
Senior Maria McNiece is a double major in dance and movement studies and business, with a concentration in arts management. McNiece is in the process of completing her interdisciplinary honors thesis, Very Unpromising Material, a 40-minute performance piece rooted in modern dance that amalgamates her findings from the Emory departments of English, visual arts, and theater studies. Very Unpromising Material centers on the 20th-century absurdist play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. McNiece’s research focuses on the ways in which movement artists codify methodologies of translating text into choreography. McNiece analyzed historical examples, including Maguy Marin’s May B (1981) and Crystal Pite’s The Tempest Replica (2011)She applied her research to construct a physical reimagining of Waiting for Godot through modern dance.
Being an honor thesis candidate in dance and movement studies has been a goal McNiece has strived to achieve during the course of her Emory career, and she says that receiving the faculty’s invitation to pursue a thesis was one of the biggest honors of her life. “The Emory Dance faculty have continually demonstrated their faith in me as a choreographer, and their unwavering support has carried me through the tough moments with the project. The fact that dancers offered me their energy, time, and bodies for this process is not something I take lightly, and it has been a privilege to have been granted that trust.” 
Photo by Christina Massad
Faculty outside of the Emory Dance Program have also helped her throughout this process. “I studied Waiting for Godot in a Beckett-centered Emory theater studies course last semester, and have worked with theater faculty like Donald McManus and Caitlin Hargraves extensively on the development of this project. Theater students have guided my cast through performative characterization and vocalization. I worked with visual art and theatre faculty members Dana Haugaard and Sara Culpepper on the design and construction of the infamous tree in Godot, which I built as an eight-foot sculpture made out of junk metal. Additionally, Dr. Laura Otis and the Emory English department have been largely influential in my research of this text as a work of literature.”

Emory Dance Program goes to American College Dance Association (ACDA)

Emory Dance Company performs form and f r a g m e n t
Photo by Lori Teague

By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant

The American College Dance Association (ACDA) is a national festival held each year to recognize and encourage excellence in performance and choreography in higher education. This is achieved through regional conferences that have movement classes, master workshops, seminars, adjudicated performances, and informal showings. This year, the Emory Dance Program will attend the Southeast conference. During this time, faculty member Julio Medina’s piece actants and dance major Maria McNiece’s honor thesis project Very Unpromising Material will be adjudicated. Also, excerpts from faculty member Kristin O’Neal’s piece Sweet Suite will be shown in an informal concert. At the Emory Dance Program, we are excited for our students to have the opportunity to perform at a higher level and implement what they learn to further their dance careers. Below are brief descriptions about each piece for the Emory Dance Program being shown at ACDA this year. 

Emory Dance Company performs form and f r a g m e n tPhoto by Lori Teague
Julio Medina is a dance artist and educator at the Emory Dance Program. Medina’s work form and f r a g m e n t, which was previously set on the Emory Dance Company, debuted in November. His piece was inspired by the French Philosopher Bruno Latour’s expression “actant,” which is “a source of action that can be human or nonhuman.” With this in mind, the dancers aim to synergize the material/non-material space with their personalities, presence, and moving bodies. Medina also explored “the energy of the room, the presence that each dancer has and how these personalities work together.” The movement draws from contemporary modern dance, hip-hop, House, boxing and workaday pedestrian movement.
Very Unpromising Material; photo by Christina Massad
Senior Maria McNiece is a double major in dance and movement studies and business, with a concentration in arts management. McNiece is in the process of completing her interdisciplinary honors thesis, Very Unpromising Material,a 30-minute performance piece rooted in modern dance that amalgamates her findings from the Emory departments of English, visual arts, and theater studies. Very Unpromising Material centers on the 20th-century absurdist play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.McNiece’s research focuses on the ways in which movement artists codify methodologies of translating text into choreography. McNiece analyzed historical examples, including Maguy Marin’s May B (1981) and Crystal Pite’s The Tempest Replica (2011)She applied her research to construct a physical reimagining of Waiting for Godot through modern dance. She will show an excerpt from her piece at ACDA.
Emory Dance Company dancers perform Kristin O'Neal's
Sweet Suite; photo by Lori Teague
Kristin O’Neal is a performer, teacher, and choreographer. O’Neal was one of three guest artists who set a piece on the Emory Dance Company in the fall. Her restaged work Sweet Suite was originally created over the span of a decade. This work, as described by O’Neal, “shares a glimpse into the inner life of seven women—where the sweet meets the bittersweet through moments of elation, despair, humor, heartbreak and determination.”


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

New Faculty Member Angela Harris Interview


By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant


I recently had the opportunity to interview our new faculty member Angela Harris, who is teaching for the Emory Dance Program this spring. Harris, who began training at an early age, received most of her dance education from The Baltimore School for the Arts (a performing arts high school in Baltimore, MD). In the summers she attended programs at the Eglevsky Ballet (NY), School of the Hartford Ballet (CT), and Dance Theatre of Harlem (NYC). She continued her training in college and attended Mercyhurst College (PA) for two  years, majoring in dance, before transferring to City College of New York, where she trained at STEPS on Broadway, [WA2] on a full ballet scholarship. While in college, Harris trained professionally with Urban Ballet Theater, a contemporary ballet company. Immediately after graduation, Harris was hired by Columbia City Ballet in South Carolina,then moved to Atlanta and joined The Georgia Ballet. 

When asked when Harris decided that she wanted to be a dancer or choreographer she responded as follows: “I actually knew pretty early on that I wanted to be a choreographer. When I was young, I always found myself creating dances in my bedroom, and I knew that I wanted the chance to create on other dancers. My high school gave us an opportunity every year to have our choreography juried for a final grade. I also knew that it would be harder to be seriously considered as a ballet choreographer, if I did not have experience as a professional dancer. So, I pursued a performing career as a dancer, as well.” 

As a choreographer, Harris’ work is ballet driven. She takes a neo-classical approach when creating new pieces, while also drawing from other genres in her dance background such as modern, jazz, and African. Her music selections influence her process:“I am heavily inspired by the music that I select, even though I do not choreograph ‘to the music’ most of the time. I use the music to create the atmosphere and help highlight my intention.”

Harris has taken her passion for choreography a step further by creating Dance Canvas in 2008. Dance Canvas is a non-profit arts organization providing opportunities and resources for emerging professional choreographers. Each year eight to ten dance artists are selected and introduced to the community of professional dance in Atlanta and given the platform to create new work and showcase it to audiences. This year eight new works will debut are March 20-21at the Ferst Center for the Arts. Harris describes the program as follows “It’s a way to showcase the diverse professional dance talent that call Atlanta home.” For the past two seasons, Emory Dance Program alumni have been selected to present works and this season, Katie Messina's work will be presented. 
Harris is teaching Ballet I and one Ballet II courses this semester for the Emory Dance Program. In Harris’ Ballet I courses students are focusing on the technical steps and understanding the principles of ballet, as well as learning to appreciate the art form. In her Ballet II course  they have are working on strength, flexibility and alignment. Harris loves how “All of the students are so eager to learn, and it makes teaching a pleasure. I am thrilled to be a part of the Emory Dance faculty this semester.”
Harris, who has been in the Atlanta area for a while ended the interview by providing advice to dancers who are aspiring to be a full time artist. Her words are as follows: 
“My advice to all aspiring professional dancers is to stay in class...never stop being a student. Also, try to find choreographers you want to work with and take their classes. Most of the jobs I have had have come to me through word of mouth vs. auditioning. Grow your network, build your technical skills,travel as much as you can and see dance in other cities/countries, find mentors,and work hard! Maintaining a full-time career in the dance profession is sometimes difficult to navigate, but it can be incredibly fulfilling.” 

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Aryanna Allen




Photo of Allen by Lori Teague


By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant


Aryanna Allen is a senior with a major in dance and movement studies and a minor in economics. Allen’s piece is inspired by artwork that she saw at the Tate Modern in London. Allen describes the piece, Cildo Meireles' Babel (2001), as “...a tower comprised of hundreds of radios, each tuned to a different station, playing all at once. Related to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, Meireles addresses ideas of failed communication and information overload.” Though Babel (2001) serves as Allen’s main inspiration for her piece, she will be using the phrases she heard to cultivate movement.

Photo of Allen by Lori Teague
When we asked Allen about her greatest inspiration when creating movement, she replied “I am inspired by all of the incredibly talented artists and teachers I have had the opportunity to work with thus far. Each of them has impacted me in a variety of ways and will continue to influence my movement style. I am interested to see how each of their personalities and processes will be revealed within my own process.”

As Allen’s  rehearsals have gotten underway, she is excited to see how her initial idea will become a fully produced work of art. She is also excited to be in the role of choreographer and discovering the “behind the scenes” tasks and efforts that must be performed in this role. However, Allen’s only concern is the high caliber responsibility that being a choreographer holds. To overcome this fear, Allen stated “As in every process I have been a part of, I am sure there will be some bumps in the road, but with thoughtful planning and my incredible cast, I am confident that we will be able to navigate those rocky areas and make a piece that we will all be proud of.” 

As we get closer to the show date, we will hold another interview with Aryanna Allen  to explore her full choreographic process.